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Words of law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is adverse possession.

adverse possession (18c) 1. The enjoyment of real property with a claim of right when that enjoyment is opposed to another person’s claim and is continuous, exclusive, hostile, open, and notorious. 2. The doctrine by which title to real property is acquired as a result of such use or enjoyment over a specified period of time.

 –  Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

“Adverse possession is a doctrine used to create title through possession for a statutory period under certain circumstances.”

 – Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location, 6th ed., Walter G. Robillard and Donald A. Wilson, Wiley, 2011.

In Massachusetts, there is a statute of limitations on bringing of actions for the recovery of land. This makes it possible (in the event that the land has not been registered in Land Court under the Massachusetts variety of the Torrens system described in “A Brief History of the Land Court” ) for title to be acquired by adverse possession.

The elements for establishing title by adverse possession in Massachusetts are actual, open, notorious, exclusive and adverse use for twenty years. Ryan v. Stavros, 348 Mass. 251 (1964) and Holmes v. Johnson, 324 Mass. 450 (1949) are two cases that describe the elements, but claims of title by adverse possession go back to the first book in the Massachusetts Reports series, The Proprietors of Kennebeck Purchase v. Obadiah Call. 1 Mass. 483 (1805).

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